Gear can be hard. Not only is it hard, but also it’s hard at every level of your rig. Not only is it hard at every level of your rig, but also in the modern landscape for performing musicians, you have to be adaptable to so many different configurations of how you set up. Because we have these challenges, it’s essential that we find tools that help us ensure easy success in as many environments as they can be used.
One of the newest tools that I think we have a need for, one that we might not even know that we need, is cabinet simulation. One thing that has always perplexed me is that a bass player will spend easily between $1,000 – $2,000 on a rig so that they can be heard on stages of all sizes, and then when the sound guy comes around to you at soundcheck, you just get the XLR to plug into the DI of your head. Wait…what did I spend money on and strengthen my back for? I didn’t pick the rig because of how the balanced out of the head sounded. You get lucky sometimes when the guy mics the cab (or BOTH), and you can hear what you like about how you designed your sound. Even still, there are too many of us who hit the road and there can’t be any amps on stage. Many churches are also this way. What about that acoustic band gig with the cajon? Sure, a clean, strong DI signal will make every gig a working success, but there’s so much about the physics of a cabinet that go into the sound we’re trying to go for.
The OmniCabSim Deluxe from DSM Noisemaker is just about the best answer I’ve seen for the needs we’re talking about. The OCS is a fully tweakable cabinet simulator in a medium sized pedal box. According to DSM, the mission of the pedal is to allow the musician to create his or her own sound and have access to that sound without depending on mic placement, or availability of an amp you like for backline. Before I even get into the specific features of the OCS, I’ll say that this whole system is very exciting because of the ability to tweak right on the face of the pedal without having to mess with any preset or templates.
The controls/features on the OCS are as follows:
High Response: Controls the high end roll off from 1.5 KHz all the way through 8 KHz. The knob itself, however, is marked in qualities of cabs (e.g., Dark, Vintage, Hi Fi).
Cab Size: This is the term that DSM is using for what the low frequencies are centered around. Of course, this is what’s really changing with the size of a cabinet. This knob starts at 180 Hz and ends at 70 Hz, so moving in the opposite direction of the other frequency knobs. The knob is marked with theoretical cabinet sizes.
Resonance: Moderates the intensity of resonant frequency. The knob is marked with sizes and whether they sound like open or closed cabs.
Gain: Input gain running from -6 dB to +12. I felt like 10 o’clock was unity.
Punch: This is an 800 Hz boost.
Mid Response: This control is pegged at 450 Hz. They’ve pointed out that this a common frequency among cabinets that shows important levels of variance.
As for all of the routing, you get an Input, Output, dry Through, and a balanced XLR output with a ground lift. As a kind of crazy bonus, there’s a headphone amp built into the OmniCabSim. This has 1/8” jacks for a mono Headphone Out and an Aux Out. There’s a knob to control the headphone level, but no way to control the Aux level. I won’t really go into much about the headphone amp. It works great, and it gets LOUD. Cool!
With all that taken into account, it looks like we have a very specifically modified swiss-army knife pedal that can get us plugged into a recording console, into an amp, or into the front of house system. At the end of the day, though, everything about the OmniCabSim is based around the concept that most cabinets don’t respond below 70 – 100hz, and even more drastically over 5kHz. So while it may appear that we have a fully functional 3-band EQ hidden in the terminology of the knobs, it has to be understood that every bit of it is specialized towards the goal of cab simulation, not a full range preamp.
I found that as I messed around with the OmniCabSim by itself plugged into a small PA or with the headphone amp, the most important first step to really have control over the sound was to actually understand what I call the “intuitive knobs” (High Response, Cab Size, Resonance – the ones that have properties for spectrum). While you’ll pretty much get what you’re being told you’ll get, it’s going to be much more helpful when you’re going through monitor mixes on a gig to know exactly what it is you need to bump to find what you’re looking for. One of the biggest things for bass players is that on the Cab Size knob, there appear at very first glance to only be three settings (or 40% of the knob) suitable for bass; “4×10”, “1×15”, and 8×10”. Obviously any dedicated gear tweaker will think to themselves that there’s got to be some good stuff in the rest of the knob, but you’ll open up so many more possibilities if you understand what’s going on.
For instance, let’s say you dial up Vintage/1x15B/Mid Closed (because you’re thinking that you want to conjure up an old B15. What’s happening behind the scenes is that you’re rolling the high end off around or just over 3kHz, centering the lows around 90Hz, and dampening the 100Hz resonant peak close to the maximum. What I found was that you can sort of “set up” the cab sound you want this way, and then use the two mid controls to help fine tune how your sounds sits in the mix.
I found the OmniCabSim to sound and feel good on its own, but I was really committed to trying it out where it mattered the most, which was on a big stage, and particularly with in-ear monitors. I recently subbed on a popular country artist gig where normally I run a mix of my Noble DI and the normal bass player’s Ampeg V4B mic’d up. To test the OCS properly, I rigged myself up to plug into the Noble (set to flat), go from its 1/4” out into the OCS, and then the OCS’ XLR output to the front of house. Then the unaffected Through output of the OCS went into the amp. My thought was that this way, I was setting up an entire “virtual rig” to the front of house, with the Noble effectively acting as a head, and the OmniCabSim as the cab. I set the OCS as a Modern/4x10B/Big Closed setup.
The first thing that mattered was that our front of house guy was happy. He was going to mic the cab of the V4B anyway, but I wanted to make sure he was getting a clean, strong direct signal that had a tone he could use without making too many changes to. He told me he had exactly that. Great! Since I was doing this test, I had him take the cab mic completely out of my in-ear mix so I just heard the signal from the OCS. As we moved through soundcheck, I did find that I needed to just nudge the Punch (800) and Mid Response (450) knobs to find the proper seating for the sound. Other than that, I had a bass tone that was vibrant, full of harmonic range, and felt like an Aguilar DB410, which is exactly what I was asking it to put out to me.
I also used the OmniCabSim by itself for a church gig where I use a powered PA speaker as an amp and a monitor wedge. I was definitely loving what could be heard through the powered speaker as I could help specifically alter the character to sound more like an actual bass rig. That was a huge deal!
Overall, I can’t recommend the OmniCabSim enough. DSM Noisemaker have done a great job in taking pro level cabinet simulation away from the clutches of digital presets and into a solid set of easily modifiable parameters that get great results. You will definitely be able to breathe life into unfortunately dull DI signals on all your gigs and have everyone, including the sound guy, walk away happy.
The DSM OmniCabSim is available for $259 from dsmnoisemaker.com, reverb.com, and at Rouge Guitar Shop. DSM is running a $229 Holiday special over at their site that you don’t want to miss, along with some other combos with products!